Whether you are an early bird or a night owl, all of your body’s processes are driven on the day- to- day cycle of your “body clock”, more scientifically known as your circadian rhythm. Regulating the activation of about 40 percent of our genes, the circadian rhythm orchestrates bodily patterns such as hunger, alertness, and body temperature that drive our daily activities to maintain homeostasis. Almost all of the human cellular processes are carefully harmonized in this way by a small portion of the brain called the suprachiasmatic nucleus, which controls levels of hormones that induce the sleep/wake cycle. Although necessary for our survival, this sequence of hormones can considerable trouble when that clock does not coincide with the clock on the wall, often resulting in sleep disorders.
Recent studies have led scientists towards much more efficient methods to test for and understand the circadian rhythms of those with sleep disorders. In the past, an extensive exam would require numerous blood and saliva samples taken over the course of several hours in low- light conditions. However, more recent studies have settled upon a much simpler test for biological time that can be integrated into routine checkups.
The new approach measures cyclic fluctuations in RNA levels in the blood that would indicate circadian activation of genes. Specifically, the test analyzes monocytes, a specific type of white blood cell that displays a strong circadian cycle in its abundance in the bloodstream. By analyzing the oscillations of a patient’s monocyte levels doctors can more easily identify where and how their circadian rhythm is irregular, and consequently come to more effective treatment.
Hopefully this more common method of detecting circadian irregularities can lead to development in treatment for sleep disorders as well as approaching more common sleep issues such as jet lag.